Story by Jill Vine, Images Mark and Kelly Hewes
On the drive from the airfield to Restoration Gateway you cross over a bridge on the Nile near Karuma Falls, which is the only passage in or out of the region and the very bridge Joseph Kony and his troops crossed when they were chased out of Uganda in 2009.
There are large tanks with guns aimed at the bridge across the river, in case Kony ever decides to return from wherever he is hiding in CAR, LDRC or South Sudan. Restoration Gateway’s name aptly describes this bridge’s gateway into the area where so much healing and restoration is still needed.
Praying under a tree
A couple,Tim and Janice McCall, heard the call of God on their lives back in 2006, feeling led to help those hurting from the aftermath of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which had ravaged many parts of Northern Uganda. They came across some pastors praying under a tree. They were praying for people to come and minister to this wounded region.
From these prayers, Restoration Gateway (RG) was born, beginning with a small church which steadily grew into a self-sustaining, holistic community involving a large orphanage, school and more recently, a hospital.
The McCalls purchased 700 acres of land overlooking the Nile that currently houses over 130 orphans, with plans to increase to 300. 30% of mothers die in childbirth, more than 20% have contracted AIDS in the region, and the rest of the population have an average life expectancy of just 50 years. This is why so many children are abandoned.
Some of the kids at RG have tales from the LRA days. One of RG’s workers named Joel, was in his 20s when the LRA attempted to kidnap him. He piled some rations of food on his head and tried to cross the fast flowing river. He was rescued by a local fisherman.
A dream to fly
We spoke to one of the orphans named Isaac who was suffering from malaria at home, under the watchful eye of his house mother, Mother Rose, who he has known since birth. Isaac told us with few and quiet words that one day he wants to be a pilot. This was apparently because one of our pilots (Stefan Hug) flew some visitors over RG for development aerial maps needed and they took one of the orphans along with them. The orphans at RG haven’t stopped talking about the day that ‘Innocent’ flew like a bird over their heads and it seems to have inspired many of them to pursue a career in flying!
Music and words
The primary and secondary schools onsite are thriving and offer quality education. Positive and enthusiastic teachers help to unlock the God-given potential of young people who have had a difficult start.
We heard about one of their students, Nelson, making a fiddle from whatever discarded items he could find in the dump. Four years later, he’s one of the worship musicians playing the guitar in church.
Another orphan who hadn’t spoken about her life before coming to RG’s sanctuary, unexpectedly revealed more of her story during a routine lesson. She was asked by the teacher to use the word ‘stunned’ in an interrogative sentence. 'Where is my real mother?' she began, 'My mother was stunned at the death of my father - so she fled to another village.'
We visited towards the end of the school year and found many of the students sitting attentively at their desks writing their final exams.
Healthcare and hope
The brand new hospital with 130 beds across 6 wards (surgical, obstetrics, women and men, paediatric, isolation and surgical theatre) opened in April. Hospital equipment had been shipped in from the US so the hospital can offer quality care to the villages in the surrounding area. Dr. Colby Cessnun is already treating a few patients at the hospital’s day clinic.
'Restoration Gateway give good quality care for 10,000 ugs instead of the usual 50,000 – 100,000 elsewhere which we can’t afford. I’ve come 5 times to see Dr Colby and my health is improving. He’s an excellent doctor. He treats us like we are his brothers,' one patient explained.
The official opening of their newly built hospital took place on 11 April 2018 with His Excellency President Museveni and his wife Honorable Minister of Education Janet Museveni presiding. Since the opening it has been a blur,’ Dr Colby Cessnun explained in an update. ‘Our numbers continue to increase as we bring on new services monthly,’ he says reeling off lists of services and departments the hospital now provides.
The hospital has outpatient services, a laboratory where tests can be carried out for renal, liver, thyroid and hormone conditions and diabetes. ‘We also provide surgical services, a maternity ward and inpatient ward that is expanding to include an isolation ward. The hospital also provides blood transfusion, Digital X-ray Services that we can link with US radiologists and Ultrasounds for all of the above services.
Heart for Ugandans
Colby talked about his reason for living in the middle of nowhere. 'My heart is here with the Ugandan people. We came to build relationships and we’ve loved seeing how God’s work is growing.' Colby then treated a little boy with a hernia, who whimpered quietly as his swollen belly was examined. He had signs of anaemia so was also tested for malaria.
Dr Colby and Mary Anne Cessnun and their 9 children are holding the fort while the McCall’s are away in America. Colby explained how the drive from Entebbe airport to RG takes 6 hours - compared to the one hour flight with MAF. Since Colby and his family arrived in Uganda in 2012, they have known people who have been killed using the roads.
Up until now, MAF has primarily helped fly occasional visitors for Restoration Gateway, but with the hospital opening, and their other programs expanding, MAF will be depended upon more and more to help bring in the international medical staff in to help train the local staff on the ground. It will be a partnership that will positively impact many thousands of disadvantaged people from this isolated area of Uganda.